Why See An Orthopaedic Surgeon For Arthritis?

If you have (or suspect you have) arthritis, you may want to see an orthopaedic surgeon. Why? Because surgery is not the only tool in an orthopaedic surgeon’s toolbox. Far from it, in fact.

Orthopaedic surgeons are well schooled in all arthritis treatments—from the most conservative methods to surgery. While surgery is not necessary for every patient, it can be the right choice for some patients and surgery is not a service general practitioners and rheumatologists can provide. Continuity of care from the onset of the disease is important—something orthopaedic specialists can offer with their full arsenal of treatment tools.

Contrary to popular belief, orthopaedic surgeons take care of more than just bones. Dr. Michael Lilyquist, a hand and upper extremities specialist at Great Basin Orthopaedics, says, “We take care of anything that has to do with muscles, ligaments, tendons or bones. That absolutely includes arthritis care.”

With ‘surgeon’ in the name, some patients may assume that surgery is the only treatment option offered by orthopaedic surgeons. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dr. Aaron Dickens, an orthopaedic surgeon at Great Basin Orthopaedics puts it this way: “Surgery is not our first line of treatment.” Orthopaedic surgeons typically try more conservative arthritis treatments (covered below) first, and only use surgery in cases where it is warranted.

So You Think You Have Arthritis

If you have joint pain, there’s a chance arthritis is to blame. After all, arthritis, which includes more than 100 types of joint-related diseases, affects 50 million people and 300,000 children in the United States according to the Arthritis Foundation. It is the top cause of disability in this country.

Unfortunately, arthritis is largely unavoidable. If you’re genetically predisposed to the disease, you’ve sustained an injury or illness that can lead to joint problems, or you’ve experienced repetitive and/or stressful movements over time, you’re on the high-risk list.

So what can you do to lessen the effects of arthritis and improve quality of life? Early detection and putting a treatment plan in place are the keys to slowing the progression and managing the pain. General practitioners, rheumatologists and orthopaedic specialists can work together to help identify if you have arthritis and manage your condition. Dr. Dickens notes, “For any arthritis other than osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis, usually another specialist is involved, in addition to the orthopaedic surgeon.”

Diagnostic tests and physical exams can be performed by the doctors at Great Basin Orthopaedics, and will help determine the root cause of pain and guide the development of an individualized care plan.

Quality Of Life Measures

There are three levels of arthritis treatment: Conservative, moderate and aggressive. The doctors at Great Basin Orthopaedics approach arthritis care with the most conservative method that is also effective for the patient and manages their quality of life.

The Conservative Approach

Generally speaking, the earlier patients seek medical attention, the longer conservative methods can be effective. Methods include:

  • Behavior modification
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Bracing
  • Physical therapy
  • Supplements

It should be noted that although some patients believe supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin help prevent or slow joint damage, studies have shown them to be only as effective as a placebo. 

The Moderate Approach

If conservative measures become less effective over time, there are more moderate treatments that can help manage pain, while still avoiding surgery. Methods include:

Dr. Lilyquist said, “Patients can get three to six months of pain relief from injections without the down time of surgery.”

The Aggressive Approach

The aggressive approach is surgery. To be clear, ‘aggressive’ doesn’t mean ‘jump right into surgery without trying other treatments first’. It just means that surgery is the most invasive measure. However, as Dr. Dickens says, “Joint replacement surgery is the only thing we know of that can truly fix arthritis.”  

For Arthritis Care, See An Orthopaedic Surgeon

If you have joint pain, Great Basin Orthopaedics is well equipped to help – even if your goal is to avoid surgery. Schedule a consultation today.